To show that you can still have a blast in a foreign city with limited cash.
The trip length: 3 days, 2 nights
The budget: €200 (£162)
The tactics: By recalling my powers of cost-cutting, inventiveness and perhaps a little bit of cheekiness honed during my student days, here is my three-day guide to making the most out of Barcelona without breaking the bank.
Booking the Barcelona Trip
With five days to go, my friend Robin and I had found a lastminute.com deal which included flights at great times from Gatwick and a room at the luxurious-looking W Hotel.
The location: Right on the beach in the middle of town.
The room: On the 21st floor overlooking the whole city and the harbour, which currently has the second biggest yacht in the world, Eclipse, owned by Roman Abramovich (not exactly slumming it!)
The cost: £225 each
Arrival: Mid afternoon – time to explore
Top Budget Tip: A ‘T-10’ ticket from the airport provides you with ten journeys on buses, metro and trains for only €10.30
Bartering in Barcelona:
Spotting a local guy (Alex) hiring out transport near the hotel, we told him we had a maximum of €10 to spend. At first dismissive, he eventually agreed to give us two little electric micro scooters for three hours.
We headed (at 15mph) to the Sagrada Família. Designed by Gaudí and started in 1882, this Roman Catholic Church is still unfinished today. A couple of hours later we’d done a ten kilometre loop, finishing with a cruise down the famous Las Ramblas.
Eating, drinking and clubbing:
Top Budget Tip: Ask a local for eating advice
We asked Alex where the locals go for dinner. He directed us to a restaurant called Jai-Ca in the backstreets around Barceloneta.
After a brief pit-stop at a bar which promised a ‘Large jug of Sangria for €7.50’, we arrived at Jai-Ca. As promised, it was packed with locals and very good.
Spontaneous ordering: As neither of us spoke Spanish, for every piece of tapas that we recognised, we also chose another one that we didn’t.
My favourites were the pulpo a la gallega (octopus with sweet paprika), patatas bravas (fried potato chunks with chilli and aioli) and of course the jamon Iberico (local cured ham).
Washed down with a few cervezas each the total bill came to €39.
We’d planned on our first night being the ‘chilled’ one, so following some helpful Tweets we found the Plaça Reial in the Gothic Quarter, a beautiful, bustling square off Las Ramblas.
No sooner had we sat down with a beer than we were handed a flyer which read “Best Flamenco in town, only €10”. The club, Los Tarantos, was thirty yards away and starting in twenty minutes. Perfect!
After a slap up “coffee and croissant” for €4 on Passage de Joan de Borbó we decided to visit one of Barcelona’s famous art galleries.
Since the Modern Art Museum was very near to the Picasso Museum we said we’d go to the one we came across first. We meandered through the back streets of the Old Quarter and came across tiny little shops selling beautiful porcelain and, out of nowhere, a huge church with a beautiful frescoed ceiling inside. Eventually we happened upon the Modern Art Gallery and had a great hour exploring the rooms of mostly Italian surrealist art.
Views are free!
After a quick bit of tapas and a beer on the Passeig de Picasso we were in the mood for something a bit more ambitious.
The lovely ladies working at the museum had told us that the best views in town were to be found at Tibidabo. We returned to Alex who for €15 got us a 125cc scooter, dubbed “Barry the Beast”. Twenty minutes later we were zooming up the wonderful sweeping mountain roads with the cool wind in our hair.
The city unfolded far beneath us, finishing at the Mediterranean sea, with the pinnacle of the W Hotel marking the boundary between land and sea. A couple of Magnum Whites later we were off to the Park Güell. Also desgined by Gaudí, this UNESCO world heritage site is a large garden and architectural complex on top of the hill El Carmel, in the Gracia district of the city. And the best thing about it? It was free!
Big night on a budget
A friend in the know had recommended we check out ‘The Cava Bar’ (Can Paixano, on Carreer de la Reina Christina). Despite sounding far too expensive for our budget it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
This place was crammed into a cellar-like space on a quiet street and Cava is sold by the glass, with prices ranging from €1 to €1.50. It’s loud, messy and great fun. It also sells fantastic tapas at similarly cheap prices.
We headed to La Paradeta for dinner, right next to the Mercat del Born, on the recommendation of a couple of people we had met at the cava bar.
It’s purely a seafood restaurant and the fresh seafood is on display in ice trays, just like at a fishmongers. You choose what you want, also adding the weight, are given a ticket with a number on it and wait to be called. We had no idea of the typical weights that people asked for. It turns out we’d got a bit carried away.
We had oysters, crabs, calamari, octopus, tuna, the list goes on. Including drinks the meal came to €70, but honestly we could have done it far more cheaply if we hadn’t ordered so much.
Barcelona or bust
We then decided to do something a bit risky. We took off to the nearest casino with our remaining money (€50 each) and put it on red on the roulette table.
Needless to say, this was going to make or break our night (NOT recommended!). Thankfully, luck was on our side, and three minutes after entering the casino we were leaving with double the money we’d walked in with. Jackpot!
Next door was the busiest spot in Barcelona for nightlife, the beachfront bars of the Port Olympic. We noticed that at least three of the clubs opened up onto the beach below us with loads of people spilling out of each of them and dancing.
So instead of paying for expensive club entry and drinks we bought a few beers from the guys selling them outside and joined the free party on the beach down below. By 4am we’d met loads of cool people, had a dance, a skinny dip in the Med.
In the morning we headed to the beach to nurse our hangovers before heading to the famous Barcelona Aquarium. At €20 each it seemed quite expensive for what it turned out to be. Soon we were heading back to the airport and our whistle-stop, budget adventure was coming to a close.
Even some change left for the Gatwick Express
Barcelona can be a really cheap for eating and drinking. With a room at the W Hotel, a night drinking cava and eating fresh seafood and two days filled with loads of other great highlights, cheap European city breaks really don’t have to feel bargain basement at all.
Skip out a few of the expensive tourist attractions, explore, get lost, speak to locals and hope for perhaps a bit of luck, and anything is possible.